Greek doctors are cleared over death of British tourist

Three Greek doctors convicted of the manslaughter of a 24-year-old British holidaymaker were cleared by an appeal court in Rhodes yesterday.

The distraught family of Christopher Rochester were left in tears after three appeal judges quashed the convictions at the end of a two-day hearing.

The ruling sparked a call by the family's MP for a tourist boycott of the sunshine island.

Mr Rochester, of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, died at the island's Andreas Papandreou Hospital in June 2000, after he fell from a balcony in the town of Faliraki. The doctors, Stergios Pavlidis, Georgos Karavolias and Mihalis Sokorelos, were convicted of manslaughter by neglect in 2003 and sentenced to three years in jail, suspended pending an appeal.

Yesterday, the judges conferred behind a sheet of paper before ruling the appeal was upheld and calling another case.

The family were briefly unaware of the ruling until it was explained to them, while across the courtroom one doctor and his family began celebrating.

Another case was being started before the Rochester family had time to leave the courtroom, without the judges having even risen from the bench or paused between cases.

Mr Rochester's tearful mother Pam, 47, told PA: "The verdict is unbelievable. It was totally cold and heartless the way it was delivered without any respect or compassion for the family."

Mr Rochester's brother Keith, 30, said: "The doctors were convicted in 2003, and even with extra evidence against them presented to the appeal, they have been acquitted. There's got to be something more to what happened in that courtroom."

The family's Greek lawyer, Sotirios Manolkidis, said he was staggered at the verdict.

He said: "I cannot comment on the judicial decision until I have seen a written judgment and only then can I make an informed decision on whether there are grounds for an appeal.

"It's shocking the decision of the court can be made in five minutes on the bench without the judges leaving the room. The first hearing deliberated for more than four hours before returning the opposite verdict."

North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has championed the Rochester family's cause, said it was a tragedy that the doctors were cleared. Mr Jones said: "What happened in that court was scandalous.

"The evidence was stacked against the doctors and serious questions now need to be asked.

"I would recommend that nobody comes here as this sends a message out to British tourists not to travel to Rhodes.

"They ... cannot be guaranteed their safety in hospital and there must be serious concerns about the legal system."

A spokesman for Rhodes Tourism said: "Tourists can be absolutely confident that they can expect a high standard of medical care should they be taken ill or have any kind of accident while on holiday here."